When I found out that January was National Slow-Cooking Month, I knew exactly what recipe I was going to adapt first for Crock-Pot cooking. I’ve always wanted to test my theory that cochinita pibil can be done in a slow cooker, so the fact that it was a nationally recognized month-long culinary holiday-of-sorts was the perfect chance to take on the challenge.
And, ahem… Super Bowl Sunday is right around the corner, so if you’re planning a party with some Mexican food, this is an easy and delicious way to treat your guests to something new!
Yes, we’ve posted a recipe here before for cochinita, but let me tell you why this one is different. We’re using a different cut of meat (boneless country-style pork ribs), an easy spice mix made from scratch (no achiote paste in brick-form here, amigos), and as with most slow-cooker recipes, you can set it and forget it, making it relatively hassle-free compared to the traditional method of making cochinita. If you’re making it for guests, you can still serve it wrapped in warm banana leaves to impress them. Just check out our original recipe for cochinita pibil for directions on how to heat the banana leaves so they’re pliable.
And finally, we’re not going to serve our cochinita pibil as a taco like you might expect–we’re going to make a version of panuchos Yucatecos instead. In some places, they put the black beans inside the little tortillas and fry it before adding the meat, salsa and any garnishes on top, but we’re going to use a simpler method using small store-bought tostadas. After all, the point of a slow cooker is to make your life easier by letting you spend less time in the kitchen preparing food, so there’s no need to deal with the mess of stuffing and frying your tortillas. Plus, this recipe is a bit healthier because we’re leaving the frying out. If you can’t find small tostadas or picaditas at your grocery store, you can make your own by either heating corn tortillas in the oven until they’re dry and crispy, or you can get the same result by cooking them longer on your comal.
But before we move on to the recipe, let’s talk a little about what a slow cooker (or Crock-Pot) actually is so there’s no confusion because I often get asked if a slow cooker is the same as a pressure cooker. (The answer is no. In fact, they’re opposites.) A slow cooker is a counter-top electric device that you plug in and usually has a removable glazed ceramic or porcelain pot, surrounded by a heat-conducting housing. They typically have two settings: low or high, with the exception of some of the more expensive slow cookers that have more options for controlling the heat.
Some of the fancy slow cookers also have a built-in automatic timer to turn the heat off when the time runs out. The point of a slow cooker is to cook things with steady low, moist heat which makes it ideal for soups, stews and cooking meats that you want to be fork-tender, but without all the fuss of watching it constantly. The lid of the slow cooker typically has a small vent in order to let some of the steam escape and can be removed during the cooking process to stir the ingredients if needed.
A pressure cooker, by contrast, is designed to produce a similar result with fork-tender meats but within a much shorter amount of time and is a pot that gets heated on the stove. Pressure cookers have a lid that seals and locks to allow pressure to build and prevent steam from escaping. This causes the steam pressure to cook the food at a temperature above the boiling point of water and can reduce cooking time by up to 50 percent.
Pressure cookers also typically have a vent, spigot or valve system that regulates the pressure. While you can take the lid off of a slow cooker to stir the ingredients during the cooking process, you can’t open a pressure cooker mid-recipe without first allowing it to cool and disengage the lock system that protects the lid from flying off. You may recall we’ve used a pressure cooker here before for one of our favorite recipes with beans, frijoles charros. And we’ve also used a pressure cooker in the Tortilla Test Kitchen to make a batch of frijoles de la olla in about an hour’s time (and without soaking the beans overnight), which would normally take about 3 hours on the stove, requires the beans to be soaked in water overnight to soften them and constant attention and stirring.
So now that you know the difference, let’s get slow-cooking.
CROCK-POT COCHINITA PIBIL
Meat and marinade:
- 1 1/2 pounds country-style boneless pork ribs
- 1 cup fresh lime juice (about 10 limes)
- 3/4 cup fresh orange juice
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/2 of a large red onion, cut into 1/4 inch slices
- 3 tbsp white vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 1/2 tsp ground achiote
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 to 1 1/2 tsp whole Mexican oregano
- 1/2 of a large red onion, sliced into small strips
- juice of 1 orange
- juice of 2 limes
- 1 roasted habanero, finely chopped
- 1 package of small tostadas or picaditas
- 1 cup refried black beans
THE NIGHT BEFORE:
MARINATING THE MEAT
Start by squeezing the fresh lime juice and orange juice. Once you have the juice, put it in a medium to large glass bowl and add the crushed garlic.
Combine all the dry spices and mix well; then add vinegar and olive oil. Stir to incorporate the liquids and add to the glass bowl with the citrus juices and garlic. Stir well and add the pork to the bowl, making sure it’s completely covered by the juice. Cover and allow it to marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
MAKING THE SALSA
Slice 1/2 of a large red onion into small strips and mix it with the juice of 1 orange and 2 limes. Roast one habanero on your comal or in a skillet, remove the stem (and seeds if you want to reduce some of the heat), and finely chop. Add the habanero to the salsa. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight.
THE DAY OF:
Slice the remaining half onion into quarter-inch thick slices and place them on the bottom of the crock-pot. Remove the meat and marinade from the refrigerator and place the meat over the onions. Pour all the juice over the meat.
Place the lid on the crock-pot and cook on high for 5 hours (or on low for 8-9 hours).
You’ll know it’s finished cooking when you remove a piece of meat from the crock-pot and can shred it with a fork without much effort. Shred all the pork. Place the meat in a bowl and add a little juice from the crock-pot to keep the meat moist.
Heat the tostadas in the oven at 200º F for a few minutes. Spread warm refried black beans on the tostadas. Add the shredded pork on top of the beans and spoon some of the habanero salsa and onions on top of the pork.
Yields about 3 1/2 cups of meat and juice.
- Let us know how you like crock-pot cochinita or how else you like to use your slow cooker for making traditional Mexican foods!